Flooding and Post-Disaster Responsibilities

Following a flood, it is important for community officials to take the following steps:

Rescue workers after a flood

Document the extent of the flooding. Take photographs and video of the flooding. Note the boundaries of inundation and high water marks. These records will help you manage future development and prevent future flood damage, as well as provide you with support if you choose to apply for flood mitigation funds.

Notify property owners in writing of requirements for repairs. After a flood, a natural reaction is for people to want to restore their home as quickly as possible. This thought process usually does not immediately include the reality of getting the proper permits. For some victims, the reality may be that they will have to elevate their structure, or that they will not be legally allowed to reconstruct their home. It is important to emphasize the need to meet with the community’s floodplain official or zoning department and obtain a permit before beginning any repairs.

Public notification can be given through the mass media (newspapers, radio, television). Notices can also be posted at sites such as the disaster recovery centers or emergency shelters. In addition, individual damaged structures can be “red tagged,” along with correspondence by mail to the property owner. A first round of notification letters should be followed by a second round of certified letters, if needed.

Conduct post-disaster damage assessments. The community should complete a drive-by survey of the damaged structures in the affected area. The survey should include site location (address), water level (detected by mudlines, debris, etc.), construction type, and a preliminary damage assessment (i.e., damage being low, medium, high). This task can be completed with the help of local emergency managers, personnel involved with the permitting process, community officials, and/or volunteers.

Review and issue permits for allowed repairs. Balance the desire to process permit applications as quickly as practicable with the need to make sure that permitting decisions made now don’t put people at more risk of flooding in the future. You should not issue a permit for repair of a nonconforming structure until your community damage assessors have determined whether that structure suffered substantial damage from the flood.

Non-flood Disasters: Under s. 87.30 (1d), Wis. Stats., nonconforming structures damaged by a non-flood disaster may be restored to their original, pre-disaster condition, provided that all federal regulations are met. The law defines a “non-flood disaster” as a fire or an ice storm, tornado, windstorm, mudslide, or other destructive act of nature. All other provisions of state and local regulations must be followed when repairing or restoring non-flood-damaged structures. Once the structure is repaired or restored, it is still considered a legal nonconforming structure. An exemption for shorelands was created in s. 59.692 (1s), Wis. Stats. allowing nonconforming structures damaged by any natural disaster (including floods) to be restored. If a property is in both the shoreland and the floodplain zoning jurisdiction, the more restrictive (floodplain) rules apply. In the floodplain, structures must still meet minimum NFIP requirements. Zoning administrators must ensure that claims of non-flood disaster related damages are substantiated – particularly claims of non-flood disasters that occurred in previous years.

Enforce substantial damage requirements of local ordinance. If a nonconforming structure is damaged to the point that repairs would cost 50% or more of the structure’s pre-damage equalized assessed value (i.e., “substantially damaged”), it must be brought into full compliance with the floodplain zoning ordinance. Substantial damage assessments are the responsibility of the zoning official or their delegate (building inspector, clerk, private contractor, etc.). The assessment should be done as quickly as possible to ensure accurate results. Property owners with flood insurance may be able to receive up to $30,000 in Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage to bring their building into compliance if their building is declared substantially damaged.

Maintain records of permits issued. Copies of all flood-related documents should be kept in the community’s permit file. These include official records of water surface profiles; nonconforming uses and nonconforming buildings; permit applications, permits, inspections made, work approved, appeals, variances, and amendments related to the floodplain zoning ordinance; substantial damage assessment reports; and documentation of the certified lowest floor and regional flood elevations for floodplain development. Contact the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: Floodplain Management Program if you have any questions about these requirements.

Provide records to DNR and other concerned state and federal agencies. The local zoning administrator is responsible for submitting the following items to the Department Regional Office: copies of substantial damage assessments and all related correspondence concerning the assessments; copies of any reports of violations to the local zoning ordinance; case-by-case analysis of the floodplain where 100-year flood levels are not provided on the flood map; and (within 10 days of decision) copies of any decisions on variances, appeals for map or text interpretations, and map or text amendments; copies of any case-by-case analysis. Contact the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: Floodplain Management Program if you have any questions about these requirements.

The information provided above was based, in part, on Flooding and Post-Disaster Responsibilities: A Local Administrator’s Guide, prepared by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Water – Floodplain Management Section.